Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber, Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), who moderated the meeting, welcomed participants.
“This is really something. I am so grateful to see you. To see not only this little framework of faces, but to see wonderful women who belong to the ecumenical movement,” she said.
The Women’s Meeting is a traditional part of the central committee meetings, allowing women members and staff to strengthen their networking, learn of WCC initiatives of particular concern, and share their perspectives on many issues.
Three WCC staff members shared short perspectives on the intersection of conflict, climate change and HIV on gender justice.
Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, shared two stories from her visits to border areas of Ukraine and Russia, where she spoke with refugees. In one, a young mother gave birth while in the refugee camp but had no contact with her husband, who she feared had died on the front line. Another woman shared how she looked for accommodation when crossing the border and was met with offers of, “there is my house, and my bed,” highlighting the experiences of sexual abuse faced by women in grave need.
Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for economic and ecological justice, highlighted the gender dimensions of climate change, in which women globally are most affected due to their role in smallholder farming and collecting water for the family – yet have limited ownership of land and options for finance. Highlighting the need for the WCC 11th Assembly to urgently address critical climate change, she stated, “We have heard from indigenous peoples and young people that climate change is very close to their hearts because their identity, their future is at stake.”
Gracia Ross, WCC programme executive for Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, shared parts of her personal story, and after 22 years of living with HIV, she “has seen how violence causes HIV and how HIV causes more violence.”
Women and girls are at risk of HIV largely because of the behaviour of others, she noted. “These topics are not easy for the church, but they are needed for women and girls and other groups,” she said.
Noting that HIV is falling off the development agenda, she said that WCC has been named as the last bastion working on HIV from the faith sector. “People say HIV is controlled. Deaths are controlled, but transmissions are not,” she said. “We have to continue. It gives us the platform to speak about gender, human sexuality, and relationships, about women and men. and young people.”
She urged: “Do not forsake people living with HIV; do not forsake young people.”
While the time to meet and share initiatives and speak about the need for gender justice was appreciated, there was also the call to widen the circle. One participant expressed sadness that “we are only doing this as women only.”
She said: “We also need the men to speak out, and we think many men would also like to do that. How can we also make this happen?”
Earlier in the meeting , thanking staff for creating opportunities for young people “to bring our voice to the ecumenical movement,” Hanbeet Rhee, from the Presbyterian Church of Korea, read a passage from her chapter in Let the Waves Roar: Perspectives of young prophetic voices in the ecumenical movement.”
She read: “A true community of women and men is God’s gift and promise for humanity, which is created in God’s image.”